Once again, local tragedy -- this time the death of a Hubbard girl in a hit-skip accident -- has pointed up a weakness in Ohio law. It is a weakness we have addressed before.
The penalty for leaving the scene of an accident -- especially a fatal accident -- is woefully inadequate.
A few years ago, the situation was even worse. Leaving the scene of an accident, even one involving serious injury or death, was a misdemeanor, carrying, at most, county jail time. In 2000, former state Rep. Daryl Opfer of Oak Harbor sponsored a bill that elevated leaving the scene of an accident in which there was serious injury or death to a felony-5, which carries six to 12 months in a state penitentiary.
That remains inadequate, for two reasons: one practical and one more philosophical.
On the practical side, the relatively light penalty almost encourages a driver who has been drinking to leave the scene, since a drunken driver who kills someone would face a charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. That's a second-degree felony that carries a penalty of two to eight years imprisonment.
On the philosophical side, even when alcohol or drugs are not involved in the accident, hit-skip is a despicable crime. It belies the driver's refusal to accept responsibility for his or her own behavior, sometimes even leaving a victim to suffer or die alone at the side of a road. Even under the best of circumstances, it requires the local police department to expend time and energy investigating not only the accident, but the flight of the driver.
Of course, even when the driver leaves the scene of an accident, police can often locate the car and driver and even gather evidence to support a vehicular homicide charge. But it is very difficult, almost impossible, for a prosecutor to win an aggravated vehicular homicide conviction under those circumstances.
The solution is to remove any incentive for a driver to run and to treat hit-skip motorists as the criminals that they are. They exhibit contempt for their victims and contempt for society. They should learn at the least that their crime will not repay them with a lighter sentence.